A few window cleaners, some regular cleaning staff, and a sly student who has sneaked in to shelter from the rain. Less than a week before its reopening, the Polak Building is still an oasis of calm. “Next week will take some getting used to for me too,” says Mark van Nierop, who has served as project leader for the building’s reopening since January. “I’ve only ever seen the building filled with builders and cleaners. I look forward to seeing it in action, with all the students walking around.”

Last October – just over two years after its opening – the Polak Building was suddenly closed to the public. It turned out the building used the same floor design as a recently collapsed car park in Eindhoven. While measurements showed there was no danger of collapse, tensions within some of the concrete floor slabs did exceed the permitted levels. In a snap decision, the university evacuated the building as a precaution.

Hardly anything

One of the 352 strips. Image credit: Tom Hollestelle

In late 2017, the engineers determined that some of the issues found with the Eindhoven building didn’t play a role at Polak. Still, they did have to reinforce the connections between the building’s concrete floor slabs. “The builders started in early January,” explains Van Nierop. “They used a total of 352 strips, and close to 5,600 bolts. Fixing the slabs wasn’t easy though, given that each of these strips is nearly 3 metres long and weighs 20 kilos.”

What will the average student notice of these adaptations? In short: hardly anything. The only time you’ll see what the builders have been up to these past three months is when you stare up at the ceiling out of sheer boredom, while cramming for an exam. “There haven’t been any functional changes to the building. You won’t find a column standing in the middle of a lecture hall all of sudden.”


Image credit: Tom Hollestelle

In addition to the required ‘security update’, Polak was also given a few touch-ups during the closure. “They’ve implemented a few computer updates that were already scheduled, put all the furniture back where it belongs and added some new plants, since some of the existing plants haven’t survived six months of poor light and no water. Hopefully, the building will feel as new when it reopens on Tuesday.” Lydia’s hairdressing salon will also be opening straight away on Tuesday; the other shops will be back to business on 23 April.

The only question that remains (for the time being) is who’ll be footing the bill. “I don’t know – and if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” says a smiling Van Nierop. “But that’s still ahead of us. The university has decided to pay for everything up front, and determine liability afterwards – so that we can reopen the building as soon as possible. Whether any other adaptations will be necessary at some point in the future? In principle, no – the building satisfies all current requirements – but the government could always adopt stricter codes, of course.”

Make haste slowly

Still, at first sight, not much has changed. Many of the students walking around Polak again next week will wonder whether the builders couldn’t have hurried up a bit. “Last October, Polak was closed at very short notice, and we’ve done everything in our power to reopen the building as quickly as possible. However, we did take the time to take every measure required. Because while you don’t necessarily have to make haste slowly, it shouldn’t become a rush job – particularly in a case like this.”

Image credit: Tom Hollestelle